Lawmaker battles distrust of census

The top House Republican overseeing the 2010 census is enlisting his GOP colleagues in an effort to maximize participation in the decennial count by constituents who may be reluctant to disclose information to government officials.

The effort of Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. -- and his message that completing a census form is a "patriotic duty" -- aims in part to fight an undercurrent of suspicions about the government's collection of personal data that has been churned by some conservative media personalities as well as Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.

The ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Census Subcommittee and his staff are kicking off an education blitz with a Friday workshop to coach GOP chiefs of staff and communications directors on the value of the census and to help dispel the perception that it invades the privacy of Americans.

The effort comes against the backdrop of conservative attacks on the now-defunct community outreach partnership between the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now with the Census Bureau and public assertions by Bachmann that she would refuse to respond to the "intrusive" survey.

In an interview on Thursday, McHenry declined to point fingers at other Republicans, emphasizing that his goal is to underscore to his colleagues that encouraging participation in the census is "in their own self-interest" because it affects the allocation of federal aid and congressional seats.

"If none of their constituents answer the census," he said, "then they do not have any constituents, and they don't have a district."

McHenry may be keenly aware of the need for full participation because his home state narrowly won a 13th House seat after the 2000 census. A legal battle ensued between North Carolina and Utah, which fell 857 residents short of qualifying for that extra seat.

With the 2010 census approaching, both Democrats and Republicans fear that their constituents' reluctance to respond to the survey could hurt them electorally. Minorities, recent immigrants and homeowners facing foreclosure are especially at risk of being undercounted.

Those who raised concerns about the security of the data "may have jumped to seriously flawed conclusions" about how the census is performed, McHenry said.

Bachmann said in an e-mail that the head count is "an essential function of our federal government." But, she added, "The blatant politicization of the 2010 survey has undermined many Americans' faith in the system."

A deep mistrust of government is being considered by authorities as a possible motive in the hanging death of a census worker in Clay County, Ky., whose body was found Sept. 12 with the word "fed" scrawled on his chest. As the FBI began investigating if the death was a homicide, the Census Bureau suspended door-to-door interviews in the county.

McHenry's staff is coordinating with GOP leadership offices, Republican Study Committee, and House Republican Conference to publicize the Oct. 2 workshop, which will feature a presentation by census officials.

Through the workshop, lawmakers will be encouraged to link to census information on their Web sites, mention the census frequently during public appearances in their districts, send franked mail about the census to their constituents and even use online tools like Facebook to remind citizens to fill out their census forms next year.

"We're at a moment when the American people are even more concerned and fearful about government intervention," McHenry said. 'We must make every effort to communicate as clearly as we can that this is a constitutional process."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.